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Capt. Potatohead, Dick Uranga, remembered
Capt. Potatohead, AKA Dick Uranga,

tosses one last jig at the bird school

 

The Will Rogers of Sportfishing  departs

 

One of the great ones has left us. He didn't own a landing, or a sportboat or even a lodge, and if he owned a world record, you'd never know it. He was a guy you loved to see walking in the door and hated to see walking out. He had the best stories. He knew a hundred jokes that couldn't be repeated in a newspaper but never offended. And you learned never to turn your back on him on a fishing trip.

He was the ultimate prankster on his own 25-foot Skipjack the Fisherman, and his annual charters on Art and Celia Taylor's Searcher. He made his money outside the industry with Mattel toys and business cards, but his entrĂ©e into sportfishing was ownership and marketing of  UFO and Iron Man lures. And his personality.

"I never, ever got bored with him, because you can never get bored with Dick, not like a lot of couples," said Paula, his wife of 38 years. "He was always coming up with some trip or idea, something fun. It was always something fun for Capt. Potatohead."

Dick called himself Capt. Potatohead because, well, he looked like Mr. Potatohead. In fact, he'd insist that he write a bylined BY CAPT. POTATHEAD story about the annual Searcher charter even though he was, arguably, the worst writer I ever dealt with. But his stories about the trips were less about fishing and all about the fun of being with friends and the pranks. He got as much as he gave.

"What a shock," said longtime friend Bob Suekawa, owner of Wallstrong Trailers in Gardena where Dick parked and primped his 25-foot boat for 15 years. "He is going to be missed by a lot of people. He was the kind of guy who would come in and say 'I can  only stay for five minutes, ' and he'd still be there, telling jokes and stories an hour and half later.

"He had so many friends. The phone was constantly ringing. He was the Will Rogers of fishing. He never met a person he didn't like or wouldn't talk to, and treated everyone the same. Suekwawa added, "He always told people that he liked Asians because they were the only ones who would always go fishing him."

Uranga was equal opportunity with his jokes. Everyone laughed, but at no one's expense. My favorite of his was the Toothbrush Salesman with a lisp. If you knew Uranga, you know that joke. And you know you can't tell it as well, and not with a straight face. I still can't.

Dick passed away June 30 at age 66, at his Redondo Beach home, with his two biggest loves, his adopted daughter Daphne, and Paula on either side, looking out to the ocean. Pancreatic cancer finally took him down 18 months after he'd been diagnosed, and he thought he'd beaten the disease. Six weeks ago, he fell ill on his family trip to Lake New Melones. He was rushed home and went in for an operation to find a possible  intestinal problem. The doctors found the cancer was back and had spread to several organs. He was no longer eating, on an IV, and stayed in the hospital for a month. He was taken home for hospice.  

"He passed away early that morning, in the most beautiful and wonderful way possible under the circumstances," said Paula. She did add that each day at the hospital and at home he would smile and announce to Paula and Daphne, "Well, today is the day I'm gonna die!" Only Dick could make that one sound funny. You had to be there, I guess. I wish I had.

Services are pending. His wishes were cremation and burial at sea, and as Paula told me Monday, so many people have been asking about the services, she is too overwhelmed to make a decision.

"He just had so many friends, but right now I just don't know what to do." If I hear, I will pass it on.

The word has gotten around, and a few sent in memories, and a few others have posted on websites. Here's a few:

Rich Holland, former saltwater editor of WON: "Dick Uranga, or Dick U as he was known, took the industry by storm with his UFO lures. He was one of the great wave of folks who reinvigorated the Fred Hall Show with his Wheel of Fortuna promotion that put jigs in the hands of the fishermen. He was a great friend, a great fisherman and a great personality. The world of fishing is less for his loss."

Said Art Taylor of the Searcher, the sportfisher out of San Diego that Dick chartered every August: "It is a sad day in the Searcher family today with the recent passing of Dick Uranga, AKA Capt. Potatohead. It is a huge loss for those of us that were privileged to have known him. Dick had a big impact on our lives for over 25 years, starting back in the day of Iron Man Lures to the present. I was truly blessed to be one of the many people that Dick touched, helped and supported over the years. He will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Paula and Daphne on this sad day. We love you, Dick!"


 

DICK URANGA, the Will Rogers of sportfishing, passed away June 30 at his home. The former owner of UFO and Iron Man  was a great fisherman, but an even better storyteller, husband, father and prankster.

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